Over the last 20 years, we have watched on anxiously at the possibility of bearing witness to a (possibly mythical) curse being broken. We have come so close to seeing it happen that you would have to believe in the strength of said curse. Own goals are quite possibly the rarest of sights on a Gaelic football field, and in the 2016 final Mayo scored two of them. In 2014, Cormac Reilly used his own brand of refereeing voodoo to make sure the curse was elongated. Countless other small moments in games over the past 20 years, would make even the Pope believe that somebody had used the dark arts on that bus carrying the victorious Mayo team in 1951. One thing we can be certain about, is that they have blessed us with some of the greatest footballers that this generation and the ones before has ever seen.
Since the turn of the millennium they have given us moments that have both shocked and excited us. But what is the ‘Best 15’ of this era? Fortunately, we merely had to mediate while three of Mayo’s finest compiled the team. They are, the Belmullet born ex-Mayo footballer and Sky Sports analyst Billy Joe Padden, Aghamore man and Mayo GAA Blog founder, John Gunnigan, and Balla native and writer for the Irish Examiner and Mayo News, Colin Sheridan. Lets’ find out who they chose.
With a career spanning nearly the entirety of this era, Ballina Stephenites’ net-minder David Clarke was the obvious choice. The two-time All-Star has a league medal from both ends of the era, winning one in 2001 and again in 2019. His presence between the posts has been somewhat of a visual safe-haven for Mayo fans, something that does not appear as solid when he has missed out on selection at certain times in the last 20 years.
Honourable Mentions: Peter Burke (Kiltimagh).
Full Back Line:
“We’ll start with the obvious one first” explained Billy Joe, “it’s a process of elimination after that!”. Unsurprisingly, the triumvirate resoundingly chose Keith Higgins at corner back. The Ballyhaunis dual star has reached legendary status within Mayo, picking up 4 All-Stars during his career, as well as a ‘Young Player of the Year’ award in 2006. Chosen at full back was Kevin Cahill, the Ballaghaderreen man was “massively underrated” according to our selectors. He played a significant role in Mayo’s national league success in 2001. The last position caused much debate, but eventually it went to Aghamore defender Brendan Harrison. His performances in recent years gave him the nod over other worthy nominees, however he held them off like many of the corner forwards he has encountered.
Honourable Mentions: Kenneth Mortimer (Shrule-Glencorrib), Ger Cafferkey (Ballina Stephenites) David Heaney (Swinford).
Half Back Line:
Lee Keegan was an automatic choice at number 5, the Westport man is arguably one of the best footballers of his generation, and at 30 years old, still has time to add his reputation, injuries permitting. Colm Boyle took the centre back berth, the Davitts club man embodies what the Mayo team of this era represents. Paradoxically, his tenacity and ferocity are something quite beautiful to watch at times. Completing the half back line is Castlebar Mitchels’ Paddy Durcan, his evolution in to one of the games top players has been a joyous sight. Having given glimpses of his undoubted talent early on in his career, he has lived up to the hype since the middle of the decade.
Honourable Mentions: James Nallen (Crossmolina), Peadar Gardiner (Crossmolina), Chris Barrett (Belmullet).
Son of Charlestown Tom Parsons was given the nod at midfield. Despite suffering one of the worst injuries in modern memory, it is a measure of the man that he has somehow returned from it. Prior to that injury, Parsons steadily became one of Ireland’s best midfielders due to his phenomenal work-rate and sheer efficiency when in possession of a size 5. Partnering him is Aidan O’Shea, the Breaffy man has taken up numerous positions for Mayo throughout his career, but always seemed to put in his most memorable performances at midfield. He has had to deal with a lot of doubters inside and outside the county, but has proved them wrong more than once, picking up 3 All-Star awards in the process.
Honourable Mentions: Barry Moran (Castlebar Mitchels), Seamus O’Shea (Breaffy), Ronan McGarrity (Ballina Stephenites ), David Brady (Ballina Stephenites).
Half Forward Line:
With the exception of centre forward, this line caused most debate between the trio. Mayo have produced some great number 10’s but after much deliberation Kevin McLoughlin was given the jersey. The Knockmore forward personifies the modern-day wing forward with the ease at which he floats up and down a football field. Ciaran McDonald was selected on the 40 “because that’s just the way it is” insisted Padden, and few can argue with that statement. There are few who could manipulate an O’Neills football like the Crossmolina man could, at times it seemed like witch craft, and if this was a Best XV of all of Ireland over the past 20 years, he would probably make it too. At number 12 is one of Mayo’s greatest servants, Alan Dillon. The Ballintubber native made 134 appearances for his county over a 14-year period, racking up an impressive 3-225 during his career and collecting two All-Star awards in the process.
Honourable Mentions: Trevor Mortimer (Shrule-Glencorrib), Diarmuid O’Connor (Ballintubber), Jason Doherty (Burrishoole).
Full Forward Line:
At the time of writing, the 3 inside men have a combined scoring total of 50 goals and 787 points. Astonishing numbers for a county that has been accused of lacking scoring forwards. Our selectors chose Conor Mortimer at 13, “ You would literally have to drag him in from the training pitch to stop him shooting” mentioned Colin Sheridan, the Shrule-Glencorrib club man was scarily accurate and a migraine for any defender on his day. At full forward is the top scorer in All-Ireland Championship history. Cillian O’Connor was an automatic choice for the 3 men, racking up 25-298 in 55 games. All before the Ballintubber man had reached his 28th birthday. The last man to make Mayo’s Best XV of the last 20 years was Andy Moran. The Ballaghaderreen forward oozed class when he put on the green and red jersey, and like a fine Merlot, seemed to be getting better with age. He held the respect of every GAA person across the country, which was duly given to him when he announced his retirement.
Honourable Mentions: Kevin O’Neill (Knockmore), Alan Freeman (Aghamore).
Team in Full:
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